The Paradox of Double Effect: How Feminism can Save the Immunity Principle

Sunday, January 1, 2006
Lisa Sjoberg

The just war tradition provides the non-combatant immunity principle to deal with the appropriate treatment of civilians in war. It instructs that belligerent militaries are not to target civilians, and that they are to attempt to minimize accidental civilian casualties.
If the theory of noncombatant immunity is meant to protect civilians from the horrors of war, in practice it falls short of that goal. A number of just war theorists observe that, while protecting innocent civilians in a time of war is a nice idea, it is either outdated or
fundamentally impracticable (Greenwood 1993). The immunity principle is often ignored or directly violated in war (Brundelein 2001). A critical look at the immunity principle shows that it is in need of radical reformulation if it is to serve as an effective
ethical guideline for war- fighting decisions. I propose to turn the immunity principle on its head: focusing not on innocence, but responsibility; not on civilian death, but on civilians' human security.I begin by introducing some traditional interpretations of the non-combatant immunity princip le. I discuss the failures of the immunity principle to protect civilians from the effects of 21st century warfare. I then introduce the argument that the increasing technological sophistication of the weapons of war could save the immunity principle, but show that the promise of technology is a false one. I criticize the conceptual foundations of the immunity principle. I discuss the paradox of double effect and the doubt that it casts on the viability of just war theory as a whole. I then introduce a principle that I argue can solve the contradictions within the immunity principle specifically and just war theories more generally, empathetic war-fighting. Empathetic war- fighting, derived from feminist security theory, focuses on responsibility and human security. I conclude by discussing the possibilities for a new immunity principle based on empathetic war-fighting.